Digital Gov

GSA Hackathon 2: twice as big and open to govvies

Shutterstock image: government access keyboard.

The word is spreading on government hackathons.

In its second such event, the General Services Administration attracted techies from academia, private industry and other parts of government, to code solutions to data problems. The first GSA hackathon drew roughly 60 participants, but organizers said more than 120 people signed up for the October session, and the total number of teams participating more than tripled from five in the spring to 16 this month.

Two private sector teams and a one-man George Washington University team won the prizes: $1,000 per person, and the prospect of having GSA use their creations.

The first team, composed of six people from Booz Allen Hamilton, tackled data sets supporting compliance with President Barack Obama's greenhouse gas  emission-cutting executive order. They "gamified" the challenge for federal agencies by breaking out agency-to-agency emissions comparisons, and designed a dynamic system that could determine how specific agencies could change the composition of their vehicle fleets to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The second team was dominated by techies from Ventera, along with one user experience designer from CRGT. They designed a system for generating audit reports and monitoring storage and costs at GSA's more than 100 data centers.

The last "team" was just one man, GW lecturer Mike Rossetti, who dove into the greenhouse gas problem (and, touting the importance of open development, laid his work all out on GitHub).

"I breathe this stuff," Rossetti told FCW, saying forging community with other tech enthusiasts was a big motivator for him to come out to the hackathon.

Rossetti was a first-timer at GSA, but several other winners were GSA hackathon veterans.

Michael Bray, from the winning Booz Allen team, also won at the spring hackathon. "It's a weird environment, time-constrained and very chaotic, but I thrive in it," Bray said, explaining his return.

For GSA, the hope is that the hackathon bears fruit beyond the projects themselves.

"I had two people at the happy hour tell me that they want to join GSA 18F or Digital Service," Joe Castle, lead for digital innovation and strategy in GSA's CIO office, told FCW. "I will be working with them and 18F Talent to get them on board as soon as possible."

Castle added that the spring hackathon cost the GSA $12,000 in prize money paid out, but generated a quick return on investment of $125,000 in cost savings, because the agency was able to nix a planned procurement in favor of a hackathon product.

The ROI on the latest hackathon's $15,000 in prize money is yet to be determined. The agency has another hackathon scheduled for April 22, 2016.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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